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And with reluctance that was visible in his body language, the Senmurai did so. “W-what are you going to do?” he asked as the Idle God’s hand found the pate of his helmet.

Malast ignored the question in favor of a long period of silence, instead. “Mm... yes... I see. As I thought. You possess the blessing of Focus.”

“What?” said Hector.

“Granted to you, I presume, by that ‘Rasalased’ you mentioned before. Your prize, then, shall be a second blessing to complement that one. I shall grant you Domain.”

“Uh... er, what does that do?”

Malast spared Royo a sidelong glance. “I do not think I would be doing you any favors by explaining its workings in front of the Hidden One.” He allowed a beat to pass. “Also, I hate explaining things. I’m no good at it. I’m sure you’ll figure it out on your own. You’ll have to be patient, though. Like your first blessing, and like Secho’s power, it will require time to grow.”

“Ah, um, okay...”

There was another long period of silence.

“...Hmm,” said Malast.

“Uh,” said Hector. “Everything going okay up there?”

“Oh, sure. Of course. Sorry. It’s just. I’ve only ever granted a blessing once before. It’s a little weirder than I remember. Probably because you already have one. It’s fine, though. Don’t worry.”

“...Are you sure? Because you sound a little worried, yourself.”

“I said it’s fine. I’ve got this. I mean, it might start to hurt here in a little bit, but that’s how you’ll know it’s working.”

“Wait, what?”

“Uh-oh.”

“What?! What does uh-oh mean?!”

“No, it’s fine. Might want to brace yourself, though.”

“For what?! I don’t--!”

The Senmurai’s armor exploded, and Hector went flying backward, all the way to the other side of the chamber, and slammed against the wall. He wasn’t dead, though, judging from the screams of agony that were coming out of him.

A few items had fallen out of his obliterated armor and landed at Malast’s feet.

“Oh, you dropped some things.” The Idle God bent down to pick them up, bundling them adjacent the Urn of Growth in his other hand.

Hector was apparently too busy enduring pure hell to respond, however.

Malast gave a nod. “I’ll just hold onto them for you, I guess...” Then his gaze turned toward Royo.

Suddenly, Royo wasn’t so sure that he wanted to become a god, anymore.


Chapter One Hundred Seventy-Three: ‘Ascension in body and spirit...’

It wasn’t just pain. It was existential confusion. Where he was. Who he was. What he was doing. All of that knowledge escaped his mind and danced around it like teasing little gremlins, poking and prodding him, daring him to chase them in vain as Hector stumbled around in his own head.  

Oh, but it was pain, too. There was still plenty of that, to be sure. More than he’d ever felt, possibly. It was hard to judge when every fiber of his being was on fire and imaginary horrors were beginning to rear up in his mind, parting the turbulent ocean of his thoughts and terrorizing him in ways that he had never known previously.